Hundreds of smart devices and laptops weren't the only things buzzing this morning at Berlin's Basecamp! Over 100 German and American students and young professionals gathered at this trendy part coffee shop, part high-tech store to join Secretary John Kerry in kicking off the first “Youth Connect” event. U.S. Embassy Berlin and Facebook co-hosted this exchange of ideas with Germany's next generation of leaders and innovators. Popular German host Cherno Jobatey got the crowd excited before the Secretary arrived and moderated the event.
To underscore Secretary Kerry's point that we live in a world more interconnected than ever, during the one-hour event, #youthconnect tweets were flying, Facebook postings were stacking up on timelines, and laptop screens were flashing photos from Flickr and other platforms. I was struck by the vibrancy of that networked room, the kinetic threads of connectivity instantly binding everyone together through a dialogue of shared values and concerns. The virtual link afforded by new technologies, however, can never replace personal contact. In the digital age, Secretary Kerry emphasized, people-to-people exchanges should never be underestimated and remain as important as ever.
One student raised the question of an imbalance in transatlantic exchange program participation, highlighting the concern that fewer American students seemed to be choosing Europe.
The good news is, as transatlantic partners, we remain deeply engaged academically, professionally and culturally. The Institute for International Education's Open Doors report (published November 2012) confirms that during the 2010-11 academic year, almost 150,000 U.S. students participated in an exchange program in Europe, a 3.3 percent increase over the previous year. The same report shows that 9,018 U.S. students studied in Germany in the 2010/11 academic year, an increase of 5.5 percent. Germany was 7th among the leading host destinations for U.S. citizens studying abroad.
Germany continues to send more high school students to the United States than any other country by a wide margin. Last year there were 27,688 international high school students in the United States on a J-Visa, and 6,746 were from Germany. In fact, a great many of our audience members were former exchange participants who enthusiastically told Secretary Kerry where they had studied in the United States.
“Youth Connect” boasted a well-informed and engaged audience, clearly passionate about current events. This kick-off event resulted in tremendously positive feedback and it's great that the Secretary plans to do more of these with other youth audiences worldwide. Comments ranged from “I loved Secretary Kerry's laid back spirit and openness,” to “I appreciated that one of the first things he said was that he was here to listen, and I felt that to be sincere.”
The U.S.-European partnership remains strong, and will grow only stronger with the next generation of custodians. Perhaps the best received remark from Secretary Kerry: “The bottom line is, we're in this together.”
Related Content: Follow Secretary of State John Kerry's travel to the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, February 24-March 6, 2013, on www.state.gov.